Page images
PDF
EPUB

Long island, opposite to the shore of Staten island. Genc. ral Putnam, with a large body of troops, lay encamped, and strongly fortified on a peninsula on the opposite shore, with a range of hills between the armies, the prin. cipal pass of which was near a place called Flat-Bush; here the centre of che British army, consisting of Hessians, took post; the left wing under general Grant, lying near the shore ; and the right, consisting of the greater part of the British forces, lay under lord Percy, Cornwallis, and general Clinton. Putnam had ordered the passes to be see cured by large detachments, which was executed imme. diately with those that were near; but one of the most importance, that lay at a distance, was entirely neglected. Through this a large body of troops under lord Percy and Clinton, passed, and attacked the Americans in the rear, while they were engaged with the Hessians in front.

Through this piece of negligence their defeat became inevitable. Those who were engaged with the Hessians, first perceived their mistake, and began a retreat towards their camp: but the passage was intercepted by the British troops, who drove them back into the woods. Here they were met by the Hessians; and thus were they for many hours slaughtered between two parties, no way of escape but by forcing their way through the British troops, and thus regaining their camp. In this attempt many perished ; and the right wing, engaged with general Grant, shared the same fate. The victory was compleat; and the Americans lost, on this fatal day, August the twenty-seventh, upwards of one thousand men, and two generals : several officers of distinction were made prisoners, with a number of privates. Among the slain, a regiment, consisting of young gentlemen of fortune and family in Maryland, was almost entirely cut to pieces, and of the survivors not one escaped without a wound.

The ardour of the British troops was now so great, that they could scarce be restrained from attacking the lines of the provincials ; but for this, there was now no occasion, as it was certain they could not be defended ; but had the ardour of the soldiers been seconded, and general Howe pursued his victory, it might have given

such a blow to the Americans, and such a turn to their affairs, that they would not have been able to have regained that confidence in their own strength, which they had hitherto maintained.

Of the British and Hessians about four hundred and fifty were lost in this engagement. As none of the Ame. rican commanders thought it proper to risk another attack, it was resolved to abandon their camp as soon as possible. Accordingly, on the twenty-ninth of August, the whole of the continental troops were ferried over from Brooklyn to New York, with the utmost secrecy and silence: so that, in the morning, the British had nothing to do but to take possession of the camp and artillery which they had abandoned.

This victory, though compleat, was far from being so decisive as the conquerors imagined. Lord Howe, supposing it would be sufficient to intimidate congress into some terms, seni general Sullivan, who had been taken prisoner in the late action, to congress with a message, importing, that though he could not consistently treat with them as a legal assembly, yet he would be very glad to confer with any of the members in a private ca. pacity ; setting forth, at the same time, the nature and extent of his power as commissioner. But the congress were not at all inclined to derogate from the dignity of character they had assumed. They replied, that the congress of the free and independent states of America could not, consistently, send any of its members in another capacity than that which they had publicly assumed ; but as they were extremely desirous of restoring peace to their country upon equitable conditions, they would appoint a committee of their body to wait upon him, and learn what proposals he had to make.

The committee appointed by congress was composed of Dr. Franklin, Adams, and Rutledge. They were very politely received by his lordship; but the conference proved fruitless. The final answer of the deputies was, that they were extremely willing to enter into any treaty with

Britai that might conduce to the good of both nations ; but that they would not treat in any other character than that of Independent States. This positive

declaration put an end to all hopes of reconciliation, and it was resolved to prosecute the war with the utmost vigour.

Lord Howe, after publishing a manifesto, in which he declared the refusal of congress, and that he himself was willing to confer with all well-disposed persons about the means of restoring public tranquillity, set about the most proper methods for reducing the city of New York. Here the provincial troops were posted, and, from a great number of batteries kept continually annoying the British shipping. The East river, about twelve hundred yards in breadth, lay between them, which the British troops were extremely desirous of passing. At last the ships, after an incessant cannonade of several days, silenced the batteries; a body of troops was sent up the river to a bay, about three miles distant, where the fortifications were less strong than in other places. Here, having driven off the provincials by the cannon of the fleet, they marched directly towards the city; but the provincials, finding that they should now be attacked on all sides, abandoned the city, and retreated to the north of the island, where their prins cipal force was collected. In their passage thither they skirmished with the British, but carefully avoided a general engagement; and it was observed that they did not behave with that ardour and impetuous valour which had hitherto marked their character.

The British and American armies were now not above two miles from each other. The former lay encamped from shore to shore, for an extent of two miles, being the breadth of the island, which, though fifteen miles long, exceeds not two in any part of the breadth. The provincials, who lay directly opposite, had strengthened their camp with many fortifications; and, at the same time, were masters of all the passes and defiles betwixt the two camps : thus were they enabled to maintain their station against an army much more numerous than their own ; they had also strongly fortified a pass called King'sBridge, on the northern extremity of the island, whence they could secure a passage to the continent in case of any misfortunes. Here general Washington, in order to inure the provincials to actual service, and at the same time, to annoy the enemy as much as possible, employed

his troops in continual skirmishes ; by which it was oba served they recovered their spirits, and behaved with their usual boldness.

As the situation of the two armies was now highly inconvenient to the British generals, it was resolved to make such movements as might oblige general Washington to relinquish his strong situation. A few days after New York was evacuated by the Americans, a dreadful fire broke out, said to be occasioned by the licentious conduct of some of its new masters; and had it not been for the active exertions of the sailors and soldiery, the whole town probably would have been consumed; the wind being high, and the weather remarkably dry, about a thousand houses were destroyed.

General Howe, having left lord Percy with a sufficient force to garrison New York, embarked his army in flat bottomed boats, by which they were conveyed through the dangerous passage called Hell Gate, and landed at Frog's Point, near the town of West Chester, lying on the continent towards Connecticut. Here having received a supply of men and provisions, they moved on the twenty-first of October, to New Rochelle, situated on the Sound which separates Long Island from the continent.

After this, still receiving fresh reinforcements, they made such movements as threatened to distress the provincials very much, by cutting off their convoys of provisions from Connecticut, and thus force them to an engagement. This, general Washington determined at all events to avoid. He therefore extended his forces into a long line opposite to the way in which the enemy marched, keeping the Brunx, a river of considerable magnitude, between the two armies, with the North-River in his rear. Here the provincials continued for some time to skirmish with the royal army, until, at last, by some maneuvres, the British general found means to attack them on the twentyeighth of October, 1776, advantageously, at a place called the White Plains, and drove them from some of their posts.

The success on this occasion was not so compleat as on the former ; however it obliged the provincials to change their ground, and retreat farther up into the country. General Howe pursued them for some time ; but at last,

finding all his endeavours to bring on a general action, fruitless, he determined to give over the pursuit, and employ kimself in reducing the forts which the provincials still retained in the neighbourhood of New York.

Fort Washington was the only post the Americans then held on New York island, and was under the command of colonel Magaw. The royal army made four attacks upon it. The first on the north side, was led on by general Knyphauzen: the second, on the east, by general Matthews, supported by lord Cornwallis : the third was under the direction of lieutenant-colonel Sterling: and the fourth by lord Percy. The troops under Knyphauzen, when advancing to the fort, had to pass through a thick wood, which was occupied by Rawling's regiment of riflemen, and suffered very much from their well-directed fire. During this attack a body of British light infantry, advanced against a party of the Americans, who were annoying them from behind rocks and trees, and obliged them to disperse. Lord Percy carried an advance work on his side; and lieutenant colonel Sterling forced his way up a steep ascent, and took one hundred and seventy prisoner3. Their outworks being carried, the Americans left their lines, and crowded into the fort. Colonel Rahl, who led the right column of Knyphauzen's attack, pushed forwards, and lodged his column within an hundred yards of the fort, and was there soon joined by the left column. The garrison surrendered on terms of capitulation, by which the men were to be considered as prisoners of war, and the officers to keep their baggage and side arms. The number of prisoners amounted to two thousand seven hundred. The loss of the British was considerable.

Shortly after the surrender of fort Washington, fort Lee, situate on the opposite shore of the North River, was evacuated by the Americans at the approach of lord Cornwallis; and at the expense of their artillery and

stores.

Fort Lee being evacuated by the Americans, the Jerseys lay wholly open to the incursions of the British troops, and was so entirely taken possession of by the royal army, that their winter quarters extended from New Brunswick, to the river Delaware. Had any number of boats been at hand, it was thought Philadelphia would now have fallen VOL. II.

Сс

« PreviousContinue »